When local school districts and universities closed classrooms and made instruction remote to reduce the spread of coronavirus, educators and families knew school wouldn’t be the same.

State exam requirements were waived by Gov. Greg Abbott, and instruction was translated online or into paper packets for pickup. Education officials reiterated this instruction is not a direct substitute for in-class learning, but that students must focus to continue learning in preparation of next school year.

Now some school districts and universities are rolling out grading changes to reflect the altered instruction plans.

PK-12 school districts

Northside Independent School District, San Antonio’s largest district, published different guidelines for elementary, middle, and high school students. Elementary educators will assign their students one or two assignments in each core subject (math, science, social studies, and reading and language arts) per week and focus on providing “rich, timely feedback” to students, not on assigning grades.

Middle school students won’t be assigned grades for the fifth six-week period so students and families can adjust to distance learning, but beginning on April 20, all graded assignments for the sixth six-week period will be considered formative and weighted equally. The district directed middle school teachers to assign grades that reflect mastery, while giving flexibility on due dates.

High school students’ graded assignments will be considered formative and weighted equally, but students will not penalized for late assignments. All of Northside’s guidelines are subject to change based on guidance from the Texas Education Agency.

Decisions about failing grades for middle and high school students will occur after distance learning ends and NISD advised parents more details will be forthcoming.

In neighboring North East ISD, district spokeswoman Aubrey Chancellor said the district recognizes the challenges brought about by distance learning: lack of direct instruction, inconsistent availability of technology for students, a new learning environment, and the potential for difficult life situations at home.

To that end, NEISD asked teachers to take a holistic view of each student when evaluating the overall performance and award distance learning grades as complete, in progress, or incomplete.

Chancellor noted that some courses, including those for dual credit with Alamo Colleges or OnRamps, will require a numeric grade at the end of the year. For now, NEISD will use complete, in progress, or incomplete for record keeping in these courses, she said, adding that the district would discuss at a later time how to use the process to support dual credit or grade promotion.

In Judson ISD, administrators suspended progress reports for all grade levels during school closure, but decided to assign elementary students one daily grade per week based on activities posted online. Pre-K and kindergarten students won’t receive grades weekly, but will receive feedback on student progress.

Judson middle and high schoolers will receive one daily grade per week and one major grade in each subject for the nine-week grading period.

East Central ISD told families high school students would still be able to earn credits for the school year if the district does not reopen. If campuses remain closed, students’ grades would come from work done in the first semester up through the end of the third 9-week segment.

“In addition, evidence of learning demonstrated through the distance learning curriculum will be used to determine mastery of content,” a district questionnaire said. “Teachers will work with students and families to review evidence collected to award course credit.”

Grades from distance learning work won’t be used to lower a student’s average, the district said. Once school resumes, “grades may be used as evidence of student learning to increase student grades.”

Somerset ISD Superintendent Saul Hinojosa informed the community Monday that the district would delay graduation until July and switch to a no-credit/credit system for grading in the final nine weeks of the semester.

“Even though students will be receiving a numerical grade, they will be ending with a grade of ‘credit’ which essentially pertains to all our high school students,” Hinojosa said. “That means that class ranks and GPAs will all be calculated based on the grades they had at the third nine-weeks.”

Several districts have not yet released comprehensive grading policies including Alamo Heights ISD, Edgewood ISD, Harlandale ISD, San Antonio ISD, South San Antonio ISD, and Southside ISD.

“We will be taking grades, specifically at the high school level where credit is so important, but I will say we are following TEA’s guidance,” Edgewood Senior Executive Director of Academic Services Theresa Salinas said in a video posted to the district’s website. “We are not going to rush this whole turning in work, grading process. We know that some of us are just getting the technology in our hand and some of us don’t even have the technology at this point.”

A Southwest ISD spokeswoman said the district was working through grade assignments with TEA and would be participating in an April 3 remote training that would help inform their next steps.

Universities and colleges

The events of recent weeks and resulting campus closures caused some students to call on universities to switch to a pass-fail system from a letter grading scale.

University of Texas at San Antonio will offer an optional pass/fail grading system. Each instructor will determine if their course is suitable for such a grade, and students will be notified the week of April 6 whether their course is eligible. Students can then decide whether they want a letter grade or pass/fail option.

Texas A&M University-San Antonio President Cynthia Teniente-Matson wrote to students last Friday announced that students may choose to be graded as credit/no-credit or retain their course’s current grading model of A, B, C, D, or F.

TAMU-SA does not have a pass/fail option as an available designation within their existing academic policies, Teniente-Matson said. Being awarded “credit” is equivalent to a C or higher, with credits counting toward a degree. Being awarded “no credit” is equivalent to a D or F with credits not counting toward a degree. If students choose the credit/no credit option, the course will not count toward their GPA.

Teniente-Matson encouraged students to check with their academic advisors about the grading switch and reflect on how it could impact their progress toward graduation.

University of Incarnate Word Provost Barbara Aranda-Naranjo wrote to students Friday, introducing a new grading option. After receiving final grades for the term, students will be able to withdraw from a course and receive a “W” instead of a final letter grade. Students will also be able to request a satisfactory/unsatisfactory grade in place of an assigned letter grade for any or all of spring 2020 courses.

A satisfactory grade equates to a letter grade of D or higher. Such a grade will count toward graduation requirements, but not a student’s GPA.

Our Lady of the Lake University plans to announce pass/fail options for students within the next week, spokesman Ken Rodriguez said.

“Because many of our programs lead to licensure after graduation and many of our students go onto graduate or professional schools, we want to provide the best guidance so that our students will not be negatively impacted in the future,” he wrote in an email.

St. Mary’s University implemented an interim pass/no pass grading policy for spring semester undergraduate courses that will be in place alongside the existing grading policy. Students can choose to take a pass/no pass option after grades are finalized.

A pass grade equates to a C or higher. No pass grades equate to a D or F. Pass grades won’t be factored into GPA calculation but can be used for students to earn credit hours.

Trinity University students can ask to be given a pass/fail grade. Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs, Student Academic Issues and Retention Michael Soto wrote to students, telling them pass/fail requests for electives would be quickly approved.

However, Soto said he would need to obtain assurance from the instructor that the pass/fail grade is appropriate for courses that fulfill major and minor requirements.

Pass/fail courses will not be used in GPA calculation, Soto said. The course withdrawal deadline was also extended through April 13.

Alamo Colleges officials have not announced any changes to grading.

“The Alamo Colleges District is exploring all options to ensure the success of our students,” district spokeswoman Kristi Wyatt wrote in an email. “At this point no decision has been made.”

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Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.